euro 2024

Euro 2024 diary: Liquorice rocket fuel is the drink of choice as Germany march on

Gavin Cooney enjoys the hosts’ 2-0 win against Hungary in the company of some Dusseldorf football fans.

UEFA DIDN’T APPROVE my application for Scotland/Switzerland in Cologne, and so Wednesday was my first day without a game since arriving in Germany. 

For the benefit of this diary, I figured I should do something more interesting than watch the day’s action alone in my AirBnB in the Dusseldorf suburbs, so I decided to hop on a Deutsche Bahn train to take me into the city centre to soak in Germany/Hungary at the city’s fan zone. 

Germany’s mercurial train service had other ideas. Ninety minutes on the platform yielded the sum total of zero trains, which were allegedly running at 20 minute intervals.

In Germany, you don’t plan a journey: you aspire to one. 

Routed once again by the Deutsche Bahnjaxed, I took a wander to find something to write about, still worrying that I’d have to spin 800 words out of watching three games alone in an unfamiliar language while eating late-afternoon breakfast cereal and tweeting half-formed takes. 

I end up watching Croatia/Albania at home, which is another snorting, breakfast-cereal-milk-spluttering classic. I take a walk afterwards to the tiny pub on the corner of what I guess is the central square of the remote district in which I’ve found myself. It’s opposite the local school and shadowed by a whopper, 30-story apartment block painted a jaunty pink and baby blue. Kids kicked a football outside in the sunshine as their parents and grandparents sat inside, arranging themselves beneath the big screen in the small, single-room pub.


I walk in, order a beer and then make the idiotic mistake of pulling out cash to pay straight away. That’s not how it works here. Instead you’re given a beer mat, on which the barman marks each of your orders with a pencil before settling up at the end. (The weird Irish quirk of frittering at the beer mat in front of you wouldn’t be tolerated here. Also – a tough receipt to get through on expenses.)  

The game is a 6pm kick-off but the level of drinking was truly impressive, as grey-haired locals drink Frankenheim beer and chase it with shots of Sambuca and Jaegermeister.

The shots are recorded with a squiggle in the centre of the beer mat, with beers marked with an ‘X’ around the edge and in such proximity that I feel the expectation levels are high.

Looking for someone to talk to, I pick out a man at the end of the bar drinking Guinness, believing for no real logical reason that he would speak English. It works. The man introduces himself as Georg and is quickly showing me pictures from his recent trip to the Guinness Storehouse. I sit back with the smugness of a journalist convinced they have a unique insight into the affairs of men, accepting his praise of Dublin’s Guinness on behalf of our nation. 

Georg tells me the owner of the pub – whom he calls “our chief” – is a big Fortuna Dusseldorf fan, the local underachieving giant still stogged in the German second division. I sympathise with the recent play-off heartbreak, to which Georg replies, “Yes, but we will try again next year”, with the kind of beaten-down serenity of a man who has to use the German train system on a daily basis. 

germanys-jamal-musiala-10-celebrates-after-scoring-during-a-group-a-match-between-germany-and-hungary-at-the-euro-2024-soccer-tournament-in-stuttgart-germany-wednesday-june-19-2024-ap-photod Jamal Musiala celebrates Germany's opening goal against Hungary. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Everyone’s primary loyalties around here are to their clubs, with the national team inspiring a warmth rather than devotion; a happy diversion instead of the be-all and end-all. 

The results of the past 10 years have seen the team’s support wane, says Georg, but believes this team is now clawing back some of that dormant support. 

Everything here is refracted through the local. The owner’s daughter also works behind the bar, but she is a Borussia Dortmund fan, whose stadium is about an hour’s drive away. (Fortuna are ranked second in her affections in concession to her dad and the locals. Georg adds with a hand on his heart that “we are all Liverpudlians too”, because of Jurgen Klopp.) 

There are no former Fortuna players in the German squad, but the Dortmund players get the greatest recognition. Germany’s technical duo of Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala are becoming a national phenomenon – given the title Wirtziala - but here it’s the rugged, gap-toothed striker Niclas Fullkrug who is by far the most popular player in the squad. He plays the game in accordance with how Georg says the region likes its football: physical and fast, like the English and Irish style.

(I think about explaining how in many ways Ireland are changing and despite the fact that Stephen Kenny did not work out, the FAI are still focused on a modern, progressive style but stop myself because, honestly, who cares.) 

Musiala scores the first goal to cheers, but the reception to Ilkay Gundogan’s second-half goal is much louder. Ex-Dortmund, Ex-Dortmund! explains the barman’s daughter. 

Between the goals and during the halftime break, my attention is drawn to a series of small lock boxes on the wall, beside which is a laminated list of names. This, Georg explains, is the Sparclub. The list is of the pub’s 80 “members”, who deposit a few coins in their own individual lockbox every time they come here. The bar owner, under the supervision of two appointed “witnesses”, then takes this money to the bank, and the annual accruing interest is used to throw a party for the members. 

Georg explains that this is a tradition dating back to after the war, when the region’s economy boomed by exploiting the areas’s coal and mineral reserves to become the engine of the nation’s miracle recovery. Everyone had so much money, he says, they had to save it, and so decided to do it while going for a drink after work. The Sparclub tradition endures despite the utterly changed post-industrial economy. But it also seems to persist as a handy excuse to go to the pub. As Georg explains, “I tell my wife I have to go to the pub as we have to save money.” I had finally found an expression of ingenious German innovation. 

stuttgart-germany-19th-june-2024-iilkay-gundogan-germanywilli-orban-hungarypeter-gulacsi-hungary-during-the-uefa-euro-germany-2024-match-between-germany-2-0-hungary-at-stuttgart-arena-on-jun Ilkay Gundogan's goal wrapped up a comfortable 2-0 win. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The price of this information for you, reader, is the local’s outstanding hospitality. Several pub members insist on buying me shots of some gloopy, stomach-spinning liquorice rocket fuel with every German goal. 

Gundogan’s goal, coming with a yawning half an hour left, is a private disaster. I knock back three of these shots under the twin influences of peer pressure and politeness. 

Mercifully, Germany quickly lose interest in scoring a third, and I spend the end-game narrowing my eyes at the television, my face flushed and brain swooning, all the while yammering out banal observations about football with what felt like a swollen tongue. 

“Emre Can! Dortmund!” I yell like a proud father as he trots onto the field. I don’t do the same for the two other German substitutes to come on after him because, well, I’ve only today discovered they came on. 

The bar is emptying at this stage, as locals drift off to smoke outside in the sunshine, secure in the fact that Germany would win.

As soon as the game ends, I tally up the notches on my beermat and consider them sufficient sacrifice for my art. I pay up, hiccup an Uh, Danke Schhoo-un and bolt for the door before anyone has any ideas about watching Scotland/Switzerland. 

Georg tells me he hopes to see me back for Germany’s final group game on Sunday. 

That, Georg, will be a decision for Deutsche Bahn. 

Not all is happy in paradise 

Of course the train chaos is worth it when you end up at life-affirming events like Turkiye against Georgia. It was an utterly deranged occasion, really, the sheer energy in the stands transmuting the game into 90 minutes of see-sawing madness. Georgia probably deserved a draw; they definitely didn’t deserve a 3-1 defeat. 

At the post-game press conference, the international media lined up to throw flowers at the feet of Willy Sagnol, with one journalist literally thanking him for the role his side played in the occasion. Sagnol smiled and indulged these questions, but had a decidedly different tone with the Georgian press. 

One Georgian journalist insisted on asking his question in Georgian as “this is Georgia’s day”, saying they should not be happy with moral victories and actual defeat. Another asked Sagnol about an omitted player, to which the manager snapped back that he wasn’t surprised at this question “coming from you”. 

So if you are clinging to reasons as to why Sagnol might want to swap Georgia for Ireland – and he naturally dismissed speculation ahead of the game – then perhaps this is one. 

dortmund-germany-18th-june-2024-willy-sagnol-coach-of-georgia-disappointed-during-the-uefa-european-championships-match-at-bvb-stadion-dortmund-picture-credit-should-read-david-kleinsportimage Willy Sagnol and Georgia came out on the wrong side of a thriller with Turkiye. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Political football 

Georgian fans, meanwhile, protested their government’s turn toward Moscow by chanting “Putin is a dickhead” during the Turkiye game, which was apparently carried live on Russian television. 

Elsewhere, the Serbian FA are calling on Uefa to punish Croatia and Albania, whose fans both chanted anti-Serbian songs during their Group B clash in Hamburg on Wednesday. “It’s a scandal”, said the secretary-general of the Serbian FA, saying they are considering withdrawing from the tournament in protest. 

The Serbian FA have also made a complaint against a journalist from Kosovo, whose credentials have now been withdrawn after he made a pro-Kosovan gesture towards the Serbian supporters during the game with England. 

Serbia have themselves been fined by Uefa for a flag that was displayed among fans during the England game – believed to be a map claiming Kosovo as part of Serbia. 

Serbia does not recognise the independence of Kosovo, which was declared in 2008. 

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